Alternative to formal guardianships proposed

By Makenna Mays

 INDIANAPOLIS – Advocates for the developmentally disabled want lawmakers to consider legislation creating an alternative to formal guardianships that would make it easier for the disabled to make their own decisions and function independently.

An interim study committee chaired by Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, discussed the relatively new supported decision making model Thursday at the Indiana Statehouse.

Kelsey Cowley, president of Self-Advocates of Indiana, advocating for supported decision making.
Photo by Makenna Mays,

Supported decision making would have a group of people assist a disabled person with important life decisions, such as health or financial. The model is believed to allow the disabled to have more freedom and feel more independent.

In a guardianship situation, a person is legally responsible for the care and decisions of a disabled person, which some believe can stifle independence or lead to cases of exploitation. The court appoints the guardian.

Jill Smith, grant officer for The Arc of Indiana, said she believes that some individuals placed in guardianships face limitations because they are independent enough to make some decisions without assistance. Arc is an advocacy group for the developmentally disabled.

Instead of full-blown guardianships, which require strict court oversight, Smith said supported decision making would allow a group of people to provide assistance to the disabled person in areas where it is needed.

Smith told the story of a young man with autism who had to rely on his guardian to approve key life decisions, including signing college application forms, even though he could take care of himself. He needed help with some decisions but did not need a guardian guiding his every step.

Kelsey Cowley, president of Self-Advocates of Indiana, said she believes that it is important for those with disabilities to be able to take control of their lives.

“An important part of self-advocacy is choice. We believe all people should have the choice to choose where, how and with whom they live their lives,” said Cowley.

Wayne County will be rolling out a supported decision making pilot program this fall, said Erica Costello, staff attorney for Indiana’s Adult Guardianship Office. With oversight of the local court, some petitions for guardianships will be diverted to the program to see how well this model can work.

“Indiana was one of three states nationwide that was selected for this specific project on supportive decision making and I think it’s really going to put us at the forefront of this issue,” Costello said. 

However, there were some who argued that the existing guardianship law can allow the developmentally disabled more freedom to make their own decisions.

Rebecca Geyer of Rebecca W. Geyer and Associates believes that by providing people with education, limited guardianship can be an alternative to supported decision making.

Rebecca Geyer advocating for the use of guardianship alternatives already in place by law.
Photo by Makenna Mays,

“Too little is currently being done to educate individuals in the school system, parents and families and even in our judicial system to educate judges about the possibility of limiting guardianship,” Geyer said.

Others suggested the supported decision making model could make it easier to exploit the disabled person.

Jason Fletcher, an investigator for adult protective services in Marion County, said the model would make it more difficult to prosecute cases of abuse and exploitation.

The subcommittee decided to recommend no action on the proposal until data from the Wayne County project can be assessed, which will likely be the end of next year.

Makenna Mays is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


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One Response to Alternative to formal guardianships proposed

  1. Guardianship was always designed to be a matter of last resort, after every other alternative has been tried and failed. Over the years, it just became too easy to impose a full guardianship on persons who just needed a little help or even individuals who didn’t need a guardianship at all.

    NASGA wholeheartedly supports Supported Decision-Making and we hope Indiana steps to the forefront of supported decision-making and all alternatives to guardianship.

    Guardianship abuse is on the rise. The best way to avoid it is to avoid guardianship if at all possible.

    Join the national movement for reform of unlawful and abusive guardianships. Join NASGA!